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Specific Type of Stress Management Helps Improve Mood and Quality of Life Long-Term

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A small study has found that a specific type of stress management after breast cancer surgery offers long-term benefits to women.

The study was published online on March 23, 2015 by the journal Cancer. Read the abstract of “Long-term psychological benefits of cognitive-behavioral stress management for women with breast cancer: 11-year follow-up of a randomized controlled trial.”

In the year 2000, 240 women who recently had surgery to remove stage 0 to stage IIIB breast cancer (early-stage disease) were randomly assigned to one of two stress management classes:

  • a 10-week cognitive behavioral stress management class that included learning relaxation techniques and coping skills in a supportive group setting
  • a one-day seminar on breast cancer education

In earlier reports, the researchers found that women who participated in the cognitive behavioral stress management class had better quality of life and were less depressed at 1-year and 5-year follow-up compared to women who were in the one-day seminar.

In this study, the researchers wanted to see if the cognitive behavioral stress management class offered benefits 8 to 15 years after the study.

The researchers were able to contact 100 women who had been in the study:

  • 51 had been in the cognitive behavioral stress management class
  • 49 had been in the one-day seminar

The results showed that women who had been in the cognitive behavioral stress management class continued to have better quality of life and better mood than women who had been in the one-day seminar. These differences were statistically significant, which means they were likely because of the cognitive behavioral stress management class and not just due to chance.

"Women with breast cancer who participated in the study initially used stress management techniques to cope with the challenges of primary treatment to lower distress,” said Jamie Stagl, of Massachusetts General Hospital who was the lead author of the study. ”Because these stress management techniques also give women tools to cope with fears of recurrence and disease progression, the present results indicate that these skills can be used to reduce distress and depressed mood and optimize quality of life across the survivorship period as women get on with their lives."

The researchers found that the breast cancer survivors in the cognitive behavioral stress management group reported their mood and quality of life at the 15-year follow-up were similar to what is reported by women who haven’t been diagnosed with breast cancer. The cognitive behavioral stress management techniques also were helpful for women of various races and ethnic backgrounds.

More and more women are surviving many, many years beyond breast cancer. So the question of how to live the healthiest life possible – both physically and emotionally – is increasingly important.

The current findings highlight the possibility that psychologists and social workers may be able to “inoculate” women with stress management skills early in treatment to help them maintain long-term psychosocial health, Stagl said.

While this study was small, the results are very encouraging and suggest that cognitive behavioral stress management can improve the emotional health of women diagnosed with breast cancer for many years.

If you’ve recently had breast cancer surgery, you may want to talk to your doctor about this study. Ask your doctor if cognitive behavioral stress management is right for your unique situation. You also may want to ask someone on your medical team about what’s available at your hospital or treatment center.

In the Complementary & Holistic Medicine pages, you can learn about 16 therapies, including guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation. These two techniques are often part of cognitive behavioral stress management. You can read about:

  • what to expect
  • how to find a qualified practitioner
  • important things to consider before trying a technique

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